When the Buffalo Bills failed to match the New England Patriots’ offer sheet to restricted free agent running back Mike Gillislee, a lot of eyes moved to the running back depth chart in Buffalo. Even with a new offensive philosophy that should see them come down from the league lead in rushing attempts, the second-string running back is a vital position on this roster. In 2017, the job falls on the shoulders of a second-year man out of Arkansas.
Name: Jonathan Williams
Height/Weight: 6’0”, 223 lbs.
Draft: Round 5, Pick 156 by the Buffalo Bills (2016)
Financial Situation (per Spotrac): Williams is entering the second year of his four-year rookie contract, one that carries a cap hit of just over $600,000 this year. The cap hit tops out at a little over $780,000 in the final year of the deal.
2016 Recap: Williams saw very limited action behind LeSean McCoy and Mike Gillislee last season. He only carried the ball 27 times for 94 yards, topping out at 26 yards in Buffalo’s Week 11 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. He scored his first career touchdown in the waning moments of the Week 8 loss to the Patriots.
Positional Outlook: LeSean McCoy is entrenched as the starter, while a multitude of free-agent pickups and undrafted rookies are vying to round out the roster. Pegging Williams as the backup running back is just about the safest projection that can be made about the Bills roster this year.
2017 Offseason: Williams had a pretty strong offseason that, to this point, culminated with a 39-yard performance in limited action against the Minnesota Vikings’ starters on Thursday night. Sean McDermott was “impressed” by Williams’ performance, praising his ball security and hard-running style. Williams left the game with a hamstring injury, but it seems to be a precautionary measure more than anything.
2017 Season Outlook: Reserve running backs in Rick Dennison’s offenses over the last couple years seem to max out in the low-100’s when it comes to carries. That’s a definite step up from where Williams was last year, and it would fall in line with the 101 carries Gillislee had last year. It’s hard to expect Williams to match Gillislee’s 5.7 yards-per-carry clip, but 500 yards on the ground should be a floor if he carries the ball 125 times.